Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (kaw-leht), one of the most famous French women writers of her era, was born in the Burgundian village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, where she and her brother, Léo (born 1868), grew up in a provincial country house full of books and animals, surrounded by a magnificent garden. Sido, Colette’s mother and the principal influence on her life, had a vast knowledge of plants and animals. In this atmosphere Colette developed a sensitivity toward nature, a quality she always associated both with innocence and with her mother’s home.
In 1890 the family moved to Châtillon-Coligny. There Colette met Henri Gauthier-Villars, or Willy, a bohemian publicist and raconteur whom she married in May, 1893. Some scholars have postulated that Colette’s life and writing were dominated by the opposing forces embodied by Sido, who represented innocence, and those embodied by Willy, who represented experience.
In 1900 her first novel was published as Claudine at School under her husband’s pen name, Willy. Soon thereafter Willy began the practice of locking Colette in her room for four hours each day with an assigned number of pages to write. In 1904 she published Creature Conversations, her first book written under the name Colette Willy, a pseudonym she used until 1923. The book, composed of dialogues between her cat and her dog, was the first of several works based on animal themes.
Problems in her marriage, depicted by Colette in My Apprenticeships, led to the couple’s separation in 1906 and to their divorce in 1910. In 1906 Colette began performing in music halls to earn a living. A fictionalized chronicle of those years can be found in The Vagabond, The Shackle, and...
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